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THEATER REVIEW In the Wake
by Jonathan Abarbanel, Windy City Times
2017-08-09

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Playwright: Lisa Kron. At: The Comrades, at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets: 773-404-7336; the-comrades.com; $15-$20 ( plus fees ). Runs through: Aug. 26

In the Wake takes place between November 2000 and mid-2005, and concerns Ellen ( Rose Sengenberger ), a twentysomething writer living in New York, and the surrogate family she's constructed: live-in boyfriend Danny ( Mike Newquist ), Danny's lesbian sister Kayla ( Adrienne Matzen ), Kayla's life partner Laurie ( Erin O'Brien ) and Ellen's acerbic friend Judy ( Kelli Walker ), an international humanitarian aid worker who doesn't like humans. Later, there is Amy ( Alison Plott ), who brings Ellen out. "Just talking with you, I felt myself open ... a part of me that was as if it was dead," Ellen tells Amy.

Politically liberal Ellen talks a mile a minute at the drop of an electoral college reference. She has plenty to talk about, as In the Wake is told against the background of the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections and the Iraqi War. She is much slower to recognize herself or deal with the changing nature of who she is and—above all—to be aware of how she affects others. Eventually she's torn between two lovers, the patient and humorous Danny and Amy ( Alison Plott ). Ellen ends up with neither and still is trying to figure herself out at the final curtain.

In the Wake is filled with very astute writing, delivered in a consistently believable manner by the cast under Alex Mallory's smart direction and generally-crisp pacing. There are many telling and sympathetic observations, such as Amy's remark to Ellen, "What you have with [Danny] and Kayla and Laurie, if I had that I'd never leave it. ... I need someone of my own." The detailed political discussion is very passionate and certainly on-the-mark if you are liberal.

But there simply is too, too, too much of it. I began to tune out by Ellen's second extended political rant within the first half-hour of the play. Hey, Lisa Kron, remember what Mies van der Rohe said: "Less is more." The politics of the play overwhelm and interrupt the personal tale repeatedly in a two-and-a-half-hour running time. Also, late in Act I, Kron introduces an unnecessary character; Judy's mixed-race teenaged niece from small-town America who has never met gay folks or unmarried cohabitants such as Ellen and Danny. Tessa is capably played by Samantha Newcomb, but I don't believe the character at all and she has no impact on the plot. Tessa—and even Judy, for that matter—are in the play only as political sounding boards.

Despite being politically top-heavy and too long, In the Wake has its moments and generates empathy, in part because of Kron's skillful character writing and in part because the cast successfully sustains the character lines through a long play, especially Sengenberger as Ellen.


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